EP 366: Unpacking Business Grief with Charlene Lam

Dec 7, 2021 | Mindset & Identity, Podcast

In This Episode:

  • Creative grief worker & curator Charlene Lam shares how grief impacts us—as humans, leaders, and business owners
  • How she discovered a passion for understanding grief and helping others process after the death of her mother
  • The practical exercises she uses to process feelings of loss

Toward the end of 2020, I started to hear the murmurs of something I’d come to learn was called “ambiguous loss.”

Of course, 2020 was full of loss and grief. There were goals, events, and—of course—people who were no longer with us.

But there was also an amorphous, chronic type of grief that set in. The murmurs spoke softly of pain and exhaustion that couldn’t be attributed to any one particular loss.

In 1999, Pauline Boss coined the term ambiguous loss for exactly this kind of feeling. In a conversation with Krista Tippett, Boss said:

“We like to solve problems. We’re not comfortable with unanswered questions. And this is full of unanswered questions. These are losses that are minus facts.”

For me, the ambiguous loss of the last 2 years has been felt as a sort of ongoing liminality. I’ve felt stuck between the life, goals, and identities that were part of my pre-2020 life and the next life, goals, and identities that have yet to take form. And while this is my sense of a personal ambiguous loss, I think it also mirrors the ambiguous loss we’ve faced as a society.

As the pandemic has worn on and social change has stagnated, we keep catching glimpses of what might be on the other side.

But the promises that “it’ll be over soon” have become ever harder to believe. We’re stuck between our pre-2020 world and the world that has yet to come into focus.

Grief in general, and ambiguous loss in particular, might seem like an odd topic for a business podcast. But it was conversations with small business owners that made me realization how important talking about grief is for us.

Business owners like us go through all sorts of experiences that can bring on a sense of loss or grief: the failed launch, a canceled event, the lost opportunity, an unmet goal, the loss of a team member, or the end of a working relationship. But our natural optimism as entrepreneurs, as well as a culture that doesn’t make much room for grief, means that we rarely pause to observe and process the transition.

So last December, we decided to devote this December to letting go, processing grief, and beginning again. At the end of last year, this topic felt urgent—but now, this topic feels timely.

While I think we’re all still feeling deep uncertainty about what’s next, we have a little distance from the onslaught of fear. I’ve talked to a bunch of people who finally feel like they have the capacity to make a decision about moving on and process what that means for them.

Today, I want you to meet Charlene Lam, a creative grief worker, as well as a business mentor, content marketing strategist, and curator. She’s the creator of The Grief Gallery and Grief. Grit. Grace., where she writes, speaks, and curates exhibitions that help people process their grief.

Charlene and I talk about what grief is and how we process it—as well as how grief shows up for us as business owners and what we can do to let go of what was and begin again with a new vision.

Host of What Works

Tara is a podcaster, small business community leader, strategist, and speaker. She’s been helping small business owners build stronger businesses for over a decade.